Mazzoleni & Bryant Receive NSF Grant

National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded over $500,000 to Principal Investigator, Dr. Andre Mazzoleni and Co-Principal Investigator, Dr. Matt Bryant for their project, MAARCO – Multi-terrain Amphibious ARCtic ExplOrer. 

This grant promotes the progress of science and national prosperity through advancement in the field of amphibious and multi-terrain autonomous robots for exploring Earth’s polar regions. The research makes an important contribution to society by increasing the knowledge and understanding of robotic propulsion and performance on terrain conditions found in the Arctic. As a result, it will help to eliminate the need for human missions in dangerous and uninhabitable areas, and enable scientific data collection in these regions. The current generation of autonomous polar robots have been limited to relatively flat and arid areas such as the central plateau of Antarctica. These robots are poorly suited for exploring the slushy snow, melting ice, wet soil, ice-covered lakes, and floating sea ice found in the rapidly changing Arctic. This project develops the fundamental knowledge to create a new robot that can move seamlessly through diverse Arctic terrains using a single multi-functional propulsion system based on helical drives – rotating cylinders with helix-shaped blades. The new rover will be able to move on snow, melting ice, and wet soil, float and move on water using the hollow drive cylinders for buoyancy, and swim underwater by flooding the cylinders and rotating the helical drives like propellers. In addition to Arctic exploration, this robot could assist humans in search and rescue or disaster response missions. The project involves engaging and encouraging broader participation by underrepresented groups in engineering through outreach and education programs that show students how engineering can be used to improve their lives and the lives of everyone in society.

The highly variable and wetter conditions of the Arctic pose challenges to locomotion, energy budgeting, and autonomy that are not met by any current rover technology. To solve this problem, this project addresses the fundamental robotics challenge of understanding how variable surface and terrain conditions couple to the dynamics, energetics, optimal design, and control strategy of a multi-terrain helical drive-based propulsion system. The goals of this research are to: (1) understand the locomotion dynamics and energetics of helical drives operating on terrain conditions found in the Arctic; (2) create and demonstrate an optimization framework capable of determining an optimal rover configuration and control strategy based on mission requirements and environments of operation; and (3) validate and demonstrate locomotion dynamics, control performance, and energetics of an integrated rover system in field conditions. This research unravels the fundamental relationships between control, design, energetics parameters and the desired locomotion of a truly multi-terrain and amphibious rover. The optimization framework along with the locomotion dynamics models will enable engineers and scientists to better understand and design autonomous rovers that may be used for terrestrial or extra-terrestrial exploration.